What? No Smoking Gun?

The 'Times' Backs Off Cox Report, Wen Ho Lee Allegations

The Times editor says the March 6 and September 7 stories are not "at odds" and denies that the latter is a repudiation of the former."Broad's story reaffirms the original reporting in every key particular," he insists. "Was there espionage? Absolutely. Was it significant? Many experts suspect it was, but want more evidence before making the kind of sweeping judgments at the heart" of the Cox report.

After the Cox report was released, the Times felt it had the leverage to investigate several skeptics' claims, including those published by Richard L. Garwin in Arms Control Today and by Lars-Erik Nelson in The New York Review of Books. Engelberg recalls, "I said to [Gerth], send me a note on this. I want to dig up the source materials on this." Engelberg discussed the matter with Times executive editor Joseph Lelyveld, who had also read the critiques, and then asked the Times's science editor to put Broad on the story.

In August, around the time Broad progressed from interviewing skeptical scientists to interviewing government officials about the basis of the allegations, some Times staffers grew nervous about the fallout on the Wen Ho Lee case. In the meantime, according to sources outside the Times, Gerth became miffed by Broad's attempt to "set the record straight." Engelberg denies any friction, saying that Gerth and Risen had a chance to weigh in on Broad's story. Gerth and Risen declined to comment. Times Washington editor Jill Abramson, who oversaw the Cox stories last spring but was on vacation during the gestation and writing of the Broad story, also declined to comment.

Despite his unusual candor about the editorial process, Engelberg doesn't see what all the fuss is about. He says the "real scoop" would be if the Times had decided not to run the Broad story because the paper didn't want to "rain on" its first story. On the contrary, he says, "We publish a newspaper where, when new information comes to light, we report it."

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